Friday, February 13, 2009

Chris is comparing Twitter to a faded old Polaroid

This photograph of me at work, once upon a time, reminds me, of all things, of Twitter, of why Twitter remains my final frontier in social networking sites, the last place I won't go.

Twitter, as I understand it, is an endless status update. While I have made my peace with the FaceBook status update, and can be relied upon at least once a day to toss one out there, it's difficult for me to imagine getting an entire social networking experience out of these things.

I explained why this week to my former colleagues in an elite journalism fellowship. We all clicked so much during our fellowship that the Association of Health Care Journalists kept our listserv active for us, and we used it this week to trade tips and thoughts on Twitter.

I suggested that I might not be the most exciting Twitter companion, given my current job as a newspaper editor. I suggested a possible string of status updates for me throughout the day.

Chris is crunching copy.

Chris is still crunching copy.

Chris is waiting for copy.

Chris is crunching copy.
And then I went back to crunching copy.

My day job does require me to dabble in power politics and do my very best to know what is going to happen before it happens. This does make for some very interesting meetings - some very interesting meetings that I'm not at liberty to prattle about in public, not if I want to keep having them. Most of the rest of the job is sitting at a desk, keeping track of assignments and trying to make prose more accurate, concise, and easier to read when copy arrives.

It didn't use to be this way. I remained footloose for far longer than most people get away with, all the way through my twenties. I traveled the country to play music and gather stories, and I made just enough money as a freelance writer and adjunct literature professor to keep my wheels on the road.

I even went several years without a fixed abode, welcome to stay in any number of places with any number of people in any number of states, never remaining in any one place for long. I think I would have made a pretty fascinating walking status update in those days.

For example, take this Polaroid above, which was snapped by my road dog Lij on a farm on the outskirts of Cheyenne, Wyoming, long before Twitter and slightly before I knew email existed. Calling it "a farm" is a form of shorthand. It also was a junkyard, a dogpound, a butcher's shop for a coyote bountyhunter, a goldminer's lair, and a clandestine breeding ground for fighting roosters.

A status update for that photo, if my Underwood had been routed through Twitter, might have went something like this:

Chris is in Cheyenne working on his book about the homeless Choctaw guy with the two-legged dog, typewriter perched on the flatbed of the old Mohawk ironworker's truck next to his oily old chainsaw, while Mohawk Al tinkers with something on the other end of the flatbed and James the homeless Choctaw guy stirs the elk stew he is cooking by sticking his filthy hands into the pot and flipping the chunks of elk around.

Twitter came along too late for all that.

It came along after I had moved to New York, where my penniless ways would have led to starvation. Now I am quite accustomed to having a day job that pays a living wage - and to having a child, which rules out the open road and its dangerous uncertainties.

I won't rule out Twitter, though. I got over my aversion to cell phones, email, MySpace and FaceBook, so I wouldn't put anything past me.

I also remember something once told to me by Ingrid Croce, widow of the great songster Jim Croce. I met her in San Diego, when I was working on a travel story - my life as a travel editor; those would have been good Twittering days. We kind of clicked, Ingrid and me. We talked personally, not only about her restaurant, which she was promoting. And she told me something I have never forgotten about photographs.

"Don't ever throw away a photograph of yourself," she said. "No matter how bad or old you think you look, trust me - ten years laters, you'll be struck by how fresh and young you looked and would do anything to look that way again."

I see what she means. I wouldn't mind looking again like the fresh young man in this photo, though I probably thought I looked pretty rough when I saw it. And I am sure ten years from now, I will look back on the life I am living now and think, "Damn! Those were good Twittering days! The life you led back then!"


Nicole said...

Except with Twitter, your update would have been limited to 140 characters :)

Gillian Noero said...

Hey Chris - we read your blog for your inner life as much as your outer life. The Twitter machine works in several modes - 1)Boring descriptions of everyday actions, like Karl Rove's hunting trip 2)Outright self-promotion, like Karl Rove's injunction to watch him on Fox Noise 3) Existential thoughts 4)Ironic comments 5)Jeremiads 6)Aristotle's ethos - you could move through all 6 - and more - in a single day.

Confluence City said...

Well, whenever someone who helped to write the reconciliation-era South African Constitution has a personal comment for my meandering thoughts, I feel pretty good.

I am sure I'll end up on Twitter one day, being as wordy as 140 characters will allow.